Look, who are we kidding? 2016 is a horrible fucking year to be an American. OK, well, to be more precise, it’s a horrible fucking year to be ANYONE. Seriously, 2016- what the fuck? One minute you’re cute little baby new year, the next you’re a moustache twirling black-clad villain tying our hopes and dreams down to the tracks so they can be run over by the freight train of despair. Fuck you, 2016. You want to know how we feel about you? Just take a look at this:
And, while every county in the world has experienced it’s own brand of crappiness- in the US we’ve had to endure the sickening dread brought on by this god-awful presidential election. I was really struck by this a couple of weeks ago when the fires from the Santa Clarita valley were raging out of control. There I was- going about my business, running errands while the sky was darkened with smoke and lit with an eerie orange glow from the flames and I thought- yup, that’s being an American in 2016- trying like everything’s normal while a toxic orange cloud hangs over our heads.
Now, he may be a Crypto-Fascist Oompa Loompa (“what do you get when illegals come in/killing and raping and dealing in sin/let’s build a wall and let’s make it real tall/and Mexico will pay for it a-a-all/Oh yeah, you’d better bet they will/ Truma lumpa drumphidie drumph/do lies sound like truth when you shout them enough?/Tumpa drumpha and Mike Pensey, too/ Jesus would never vote for you-oo-oo/he’d so be a Bernie guy”) but he certainly does have the crowds eating out of the palms of his tiny hands. And oh, what, fun they seem to be having! Frothing at the mouth, screaming “Mexico”, taking incomprehensible loyalty oaths, shouting down protestors- why is it any wonder that leftists decided to create a crazy pants movement of their own?
And so, Bernie or Bust was born! Now, for those that don’t know, the Bernie or Bust movement consists of Bernie Sanders’ most passionate and devoted followers- followers so loyal that they will do absolutely anything Bernie tells them to, except, vote for Hillary which is literally the only thing he’s telling them to do. These folks don’t care if they Nader the election and allow the most progressive Democratic platform in 50 years to be defeated by a hate mongering lunatic- they’re having too much fun! Complaining about how no one listens to them at the DNC while booing Elizabeth Warren so no one can listen to her, sharing links from Fox News about Hillary’s email, throwing money at cars as they drive to a Democratic fundraiser at George Clooney’s house- cause nothing says “I deserve higher wages and debt relief” like throwing your fucking money in the streets.
And now there are some Bernie Busters who insist their gonna vote Third Party- cause that just went so well in 2000! Thanks, guys! How did you ever get so much student loan debt and stay so fucking dumb?
So- yeah- 2016 has been a terrible, horrible no good year, but that’s OK because the Olympics are here and the Olympics make everything better! That’s right- the Olympics- that magical event that occurs once every four years when the world comes together to celebrate peace and brotherhood by kicking poor people out of their homes to build wasteful sports venues nobody needs. Which, again, is why LA would make the perfect host city- hell, we threw our poor people out of their homes to build wasteful sports venues YEARS ago. And if we need to build more- no problem- just say the word and the Boyle Heights Equestrian Center is DONE. And the Athlete’s Village- well shit, we can just give them any under occupied mixed use luxury mega complex in Downtown LA with more gastropubs than parking spots. I mean, no one can afford to live there- might as well give ito the Serbian handball team.
Still- I love the Olympics. It’s the only time I get to feel good about feeling good about being an American. Because most days, I just feel smug about how bad I feel about being an American (like when we’re bombing someone) or guilty about how secretly psyched I am to be an American (like when it’s not us getting bombed). But during the Olympics I’m as unabashedly happy to be an American as a NASCAR fan in Florida eating Chick-Fil-A and blasting Kenny Chesney in his F-150 on the way to the gun show before hitting the Trump rally and getting dinner at Golden Corral (but only cause it’s Jeff Foxworthy’s favorite) then pounding down an ice cold can of Belgian made America beer. And that’s because the Olympics is the only time America can beat the living shit out of other nations and nobody dies or joins ISIS. Hell, the only consequence of American victory is that we get to pose on a podium looking fierce in shiny new jewelry and mouthing the words to a familiar song. It’s how wars would be won if Ru Paul ran the world! Say what you will about the Iraq War- we all agree that the Middle East would be safer if Sadaam had been deposed using balance beam and floor exercise scores. Cause if point deductions could kill, they probably will in games without frontiers, war without tears.
Anyhow, the US has been kicking ass at the Olympics and all the other countries are swimming pool green with envy. But even when the Americans aren’t demolishing much poorer nations, the Olympics are pretty great. Because the Olympics aren’t just a sporting event- they’re a two week orgy of non-stop Inspiration Porn. Just look at how fucking inspiring everything is! The historic accomplishments of Biles, Ledeckey and Phelps (BOOM! Named the women first. How ya like me now, Jezebel? (they don’t)); Simone Manuel shattering expectations and boundaries; Fiji winning their first medal- a gold in their beloved national sport of Rugby which was last played at the Olympics almost 50 years before Fiji’s independence.
And then there are the profound moments of inspiration which transcend competition- the Refugee Team marching proudly into the Opening Ceremonies, the South Korean & North Korean gymnast sharing a care free selfie, showing the world how easy it can be sometimes to do the impossible. Yes, it seems the Olympics are a time when political differences are put aside and everyone is treated with dignity and respect, except of course for the Israeli team which is snubbed and insulted by athletes from Arab nations at every event they go and no one on the IOC says boo about it. But, hey- anti-Semitism is the only prejudice that the left and right can agree on- so the Jews are just bringing the world together!
Of course, the problem with all this inspiring crap is that it makes us dumb. Wait- no- maybe “dumb” is too harsh a word- let’s go with “generous of spirit”…..which, you know, means “dumb”. You see, for advertisers, selling us products on TV is like feeding a restless toddler- so they see Olympic competition is like moving a spoon through the air saying “look at the diver. Look at the pretty diver flying through the air!!! Now open up the swimming pool, cause here comes the diver” and then, Bam! We open up our minds and they shove in a big spoonful of University of Phoenix messaging all pureed up with a Maya Angelou poem. Speaking of diving, if you’re wondering why the Olympic diving pool turned green, it’s cause one of Rio’s finest pool technicians (sadly I’m not being sarcastic- he really was one of the best) dumped 160 gallons of Hydrogen Peroxide in to the pool which neutralized the chlorine and caused algae to grow. And if you’re wondering who the hell needs that much Peroxide at the Olympics- well, maybe take that up with the Shelly Fraser Pryce. Go on. I dare you.
Anyhow, for companies like Sea World, it makes sense to exploit the feel-good spirit of the Olympics to improve their brand image. Cause if you’re watching the Olympics with your family, and thinking about where to go on vacation, you’re much more likely to consider SeaWorld if it’s “America’s foremost marine mammal rescue center and theme park” as opposed to “Auschwitz for Orcas”.
Of course, McDonald’s was one of the pioneers of using the Olympics to boost their brand image. Sure they’re plugging the white meat nuggets and Apple Dippers now- but as soon as Michelle’s gone, it’s Big Mac time, baby- cause Bubba’s back!
So- sure, I get why some companies would advertise. Like Subway, which is still trying get out of Jared’s pants with their #SearchforBackgroundChecks…I mean….#SearchforBetter campaign. But the real head scratchers are companies like Exxon which has spent millions of dollars on their “Energy Lives Here” campaign. These ads feature self-consciously diverse mix of their most bright-eyed, earnest and not-evil-at-all employees talking about all the humanitarian, beneficial and totally not-at-all-evil things they do like studying biodiversity or fighting malaria…none of which makes a damn bit of difference to me when I’m deciding where to buy gas. After all, if I wanted to do what was best for the planet, I wouldn’t buy gas at all- but since I need it to feed my car’s addiction all I care about it who’s closest, who’s cheapest and who takes damn Ralph’s Rewards points. What they are doing to combat malaria never enters into it- it’s like choosing a meth dealer for his 401k plan. Come on, Exxon, you’re a scumbag oil company- just own it. Don’t get all needy and weird. It’s like JR Ewing standing outside my house playing In Your Eyes on a boombox- not a good look for you. You want my respect- keep it real. Show me bloated executives lighting $100 bills on fire after dipping them in gasoline and tag it with “Yeah, we’re Exxon. Fuck you gonna do about it?” Or, better yet, skip the advertising altogether and TAKE MY RALPH’S REWARDS POINTS.
And GE is advertising a lot, which is really confusing because I never thought of them as especially evil…but now I’m starting to wonder what they’ve done! I mean, sure, there were all those kids who got stuck in discarded fridges back in the day, but that was when kids used to play outside and Apple solved that problem. And yet, still GE keeps running commercials to try and convince millennials that GE is a cool place to get a job while millennials are like, “dude- you had me at ‘job’.”
Frankly, I’m surprised Monsanto isn’t running commercials. They could show scientists working hard in labs inter-cut with gauzy, sunrise footage of farmers in fields, happy kids around the world eating disturbingly oversized vegetables, then kids running in fields and city squares, then teenagers running on high school tracks, and finally adults running at the Olympics while a slowed-down, female-sung, acoustic version of “Feed the World” plays and a craggy American voice says “Get More Olympians with G.M.O’s”. Huh. That’s really satire. I swear.
But the most hateful ads during the Olympics are for NBC’s own programming. Look, you may think that the most powerful person in America is the President or the Chief Justice- but really it’s the NBC executive who can sit in a room full of otherwise intelligent people at the top of their field and say “hey- you know what we need- a snarky sitcom about the afterlife with Ted Danson and Kirsten Bell- where she plays a dead person who’s kind of a bitch and Heaven is just like the Grove!” and in the very long moments of dead silence that follows, not a single person in the room says “Are you out of your goddamn mind??? That’s the WORST FUCKING IDEA I’ve ever heard.” Instead they are all like “I smell a hit!”, “Everyone loves Danson!”, “we can cram it down everyone’s throat during the Olympics!” Yeah- cause that strategy worked out soooo well for The New Normal. Remember The New Normal? No? OF COURSE YOU DON’T. NOBODY DOES. The only reason I do is that NBC spent two weeks trying to cram that ill conceived shit pile down my throat during the LAST OLYMPICS.
Then again, maybe the truly powerful person in this scenario is not the executive who greenlit the show, but the Svengali like producer who pitched it. I can just hear the pitch in TV-speak: “It’s like Cheers meets Touched by an Angel in a Samsung commercial” delivered in a peppy upbeat tone as if it’s not the most horrifying combination of three things that the human mind has conceived since Puppy-Monkey-Baby. Just think of someone with these powers of persuasion could accomplish: bringing peace to the Middle East, reunifying North & South Korea, getting Republicans in Congress to do their damn jobs. And all of that miraculous potential wasted making terrible TV shows and earning lots and lots of money. I am horrified and disgusted and very, very jealous.
The other big show NBC is pushing is This Is Us- which appears to be a drama about people born in 1980 all turning 36 and finding themselves at a cross roads in their lives. And that means that….yes….wait for it…..millennials now have their own version of thirtysomething. As if Prince & David Bowie dying wasn’t bad enough, now we’ve got this little nugget to ponder when contemplating our mortality at 4 AM. Thanks, NBC for making 2016 even more depressing. I’d consider killing myself, but I’m terrified I’ll wind up in a Kristen Bell / Ted Danson vehicle.
Anyhow- I’m not sure why I’m acting so shocked that NBC’s programming is terrible. What more can I expect when everyone involved with the network who’s not named Wier, Lipinski or Questlove is hot garbage (as the kids say) (the “kids” are in their 30’s) (goddamn it) pretty much all of the time.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the Olympics, NBC is the only game in town. Mind you- there are a lot of different channels showing the Olympics- there’s NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports…uhm…NBC Basketball, NBC Soccer, NBC Universo- all sorts of options we can choose from to give ourselves the illusion of choice- late capitalism at its finest! And because they have us by the balls, NBC has an interesting relationship with their Olympic viewers- it’s not as much “entertainer” and “audience” or “business” and “valued customer” as it is “bank robber” and “hostage”. They know we’re not going anywhere, so they feed us just enough Olympic action to keep us docile while they collect their ransom money from advertisers. And then, just for fun, they sadistically torment us with human interest stories and the inane blather of Al Michaels, Mike Tirico and Ryan Seacrest- the Three Amigos of Announcing Awfulness. And I know some of you are saying- “Hey wait- I love Al Michaels” but that’s just the Stockholm Syndrome talking. The only way to love Al Michaels is the way Patty Hearst loved the SLA- just ask Cris Collinsworth, if they ever get him deprogrammed.
Of course, NBC executives would deny that they are deliberately torturing viewers and would insist that they are just giving viewers what they really want. And, if these executives actually believe that’s the case- well, I have even less respect for them than ever.
You see, NBC’s research team discovered that more women watch the Olympics than men- and NBC wasn’t really sure what to do with this information. So they turned it over to their cracker jack team of all male team executives who brilliantly deduced that women who watch the Olympics aren’t actually interested in “watching the Olympics”. No- what they’re really interested in is the human drama- who the athletes are, where they come from, how much their moms had to sacrifice for their success, the extent to which having babies has changed their perspective on sports (but only if they’re women, natch- boys don’t change when they have babies, silly), the vital role played by their husbands/fiances in their success (also- only if they’re women or Tom Daley). Female viewers don’t actually want to watch “sporting events”- no! For those gals, the Olympics is just one big reality show, like The Bachelor with medals or the Real Athletes of Rio, so it’s important to cram the broadcast as full as possible of human interest stories, interviews and extended shots of swimmers between events sitting in the ready room – cause there’s nothing more exciting than watching the best athletes in the world at the peak of their abilities sitting in folding chairs listening to Coldplay- can’t you just feel the drama?? “She’s sitting in a chair….She’s glowering straight ahead…wait…yes… she might be….YES…she put on her earbuds! She’s listening to music!!! She’s listening to COOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLD play.” And it doesn’t matter if they air events long after they end and the whole world knows the score. Everyone knows women don’t care about scores- why all those big scary numbers just boggle their scatterbrained little heads!
And what’s really impressive about these NBC executives is that they were able to gain such insight into the minds of female viewers without talking to any actual females. I’m not sure what, exactly, their stringent research protocol was to gain such a scientific understanding of the female mind- but I can only assume it had something to do with sitting in the parking lot of a gas n’ sip drinking beer on a Friday night saying “Bitches, man” (when asked why they didn’t consult any female viewers- they responded “by choice, man. Personal choice”.)
Ironically, the real story of these games is that women- and particularly US women have been kicking huge amounts of ass which I’m sure NBC would notice if they weren’t so focused on their marriage proposals. I’m sure every young girl in America who watched the US Gymnastics team was totally inspired to follow her dreams and achieve greatness– that is, assuming her parents let her watch gymnastics at midnight- which a questionable timeslot for family inspirational togetherness viewing but a great one for lonely guys on the couch eating Pringles in their underwear and wondering when Beach Volleyball is coming on already.
Look, NBC- the Olympics don’t need you to make them great any more than American needs Tumpa-Lumpa. Trust me on this- I’ve been holed up in Palm Springs watching 12-14 hours of Olympic action each day subsisting on a strict regimen of breakfast cocktails and blender drinks (the Lochte diet.) And the daytime programming is way better because the focus is on the sports not inane blather, human interest schmaltz and inspirational advertising. I guess the evil corporations of the world figure that if you’re watching team table tennis in your underwear at 11 AM drinking pina coladas, then a lack of inspiration isn’t really as pressing a problem for you as, say, updating your LinkedIn profile or getting the hell out of Rio before the cops come for your passport.
But I think they’re just jealous- I proudly watched the Team Table Tennis finals and they were fantastic even though I had no idea which country was which or what gender they were or how many points were in a game or how many games in a set or how many sets in a match or why they kept switching between Singles and Doubles or how they would possibly know who won and when they won and how much they won by or how the hell Ping Pong ended up in the Olympics when the far superior games of Air Hockey and Skee-Ball still languish on the sidelines. And the announcer was no help- he just kept explaining the format by saying, “you know, it’s just like Davis Cup!’ – which is like giving directions to East Bumfuck by saying “you know, it’s just east of Bumfuck!” All I know is that it was crazy and fast moving and for that moment in time in that one place in the universe there was absolutely nothing more important than who came out on top. And as much as I love theatre- if I could produce or even see just one play that meant this much the people watching it or involved, then I could walk away happy except then I would have to get a real job and seriously, fuck that.
And it’s not even like I’m some huge table tennis fan. I much prefer Rugby 7’s – where, as my wife said, the whole game is like the last five seconds of a football game when the whole thing just devolves into a crazy series of laterals – and who doesn’t want 14 straight minutes of the Music City Miracle (Bills fans excluded). And then there’s field hockey- where the field is as blue as the diving pool should be; and handball, invented by an alcoholic Yugolslavian gym teacher in the dead of winter who was running out of ideas for what to do inside and clearly getting desperate. Years later on his death bed, he was heard to mutter repeatedly “Goddamn it, Dodge Ball!! I forgot about Dodge Ball!!” And then there’s soccer, basketball, volleyball and all the running, jumping, twisting, turning, throwing, thrusting, stabbing, slashing, splashing, paddling, peddling, punching, rassling, riding, rowing, ribbon tossing, gun shooting and, I guess, whatever, golf. All of which has made of a terrific distraction from the floods, fires and fuckwads which have fouled up 2016.
But all things must end, except NBC’s contract with the Olympics. Just two weeks ago, the Olympics began with a festive tribute to slavery using a human hamster wheel and an earnest segment about how the earth is getting hotter because of the actions of man. Specifically this man:
Holy crap! What’s Tongalese for “hubba hubba”? I hope you’re watching Exxon- Cause THAT’s an ad for oil!
In all seriousness, though, sustainability is an important theme of the Olympics which is why the medal winners are getting little plastic statues of the Olympic logo instead of flowers. After all, flowers are wasteful cause they die and decompose but these plastic statues will last forever in a landfill! Oh well- at least the Olympic venues are sustainable since as soon as the games are over, they’ll be recycled into homeless encampments.
And that’s going to be pretty soon- because the games are just about over. The Closing Ceremonies are upon us, and Simone Biles will be carrying the flag for the US (Ryan Lochte was invited to do it but the invite came from the Rio police.) And the team she leads out reflects not only what is great about the Olympics- with their athletic prowess, sheer determination and mostly non-douchey behavior- but what’s actually great about America. Because it is a team that reflects the population of our country- and that in turn is a reflection of the entire world. And all of you that are composing angry messages to me in your heads about how that’s a load of crap because the team is still WAY TOO WHITE and all the power is in the hands of WHITE MEN and we still have a WHOLE LOT OF WORK TO DO- well- you guys also make America great since, like Subway, you’re always #StrivingforBetter and I totally mean that in the least patronizing way possible, no matter what Jezebel says about me.
And that gives us something to shoot for in 2020- or better yet, 2024 in LA! Just picture it- President Clinton enjoying the games as her second term winds down- and why shouldn’t she? She’s done a great job and once her granddaughter taught her Snapchat her presidency was scandal free. And she can be confident knowing that her legacy will be secure- after all Michelle is kicking ass in the polls- and while that may not be great news for McDonalds- it sure is great for America (not the beer, the country. You DO NOT want to hear Michelle’s opinion of beer).
And where will I be for the 2024 LA Olympics? Where do you think? In Palm Springs, of course, watching NBC and complaining about it (a Ted Danson / Elle Fanning sitcom about the Rapture? Are you kidding me????) with a pitcher of pina coladas and a mimosa.
Oh yeah. That sounds pretty great to me.